Ixalan through Indigenous Eyes

By Gar Atkins

I suppose you can blame my cynicism on a lifetime of bad examples. But media doesn’t always do the best job at representing the Native American experience or culture. So when I, as a Native man (specifically Eastern Band Cherokee if you must know) heard that the next set was going to be Meso-American themed I was expecting the very worst. And it didn’t get any better when I heard dinosaurs were going to be involved. There are certain historical land mines when it comes this specific region. Whether it be sensationalist stories of blood sacrifices or an aesthetic that revolved mostly around human remains. Dungeons and Dragons, another Wizards of The Coast property, has always been historically terrible about that, complete with coding monsters as other ethnicities.

My expectations dipped further when I learned there were to be conquistadors, a topic with another set of baggage. Were they going to use the genocides of still-living people as a way to add drama to their setting? Were they going to frame these invaders as righteous and just?

Given that this was likely to be the only representation I got in any Wizards property I was worried to say the least. Native representation, let alone good native representation is few and far between in genre fiction and everything seemed to indicate that this was going to be no different. Just another thing to point at and roll my eyes.

But to my surprise, Ixalan did something I never expected. It gave me something I love.

Image result for huatli

As of the time of my writing this Ixalan’s representation on the whole is pretty solid. Now, it’s important to note that this isn’t specifically my nation being shown, but Ixalan does a really good job at avoiding the common pitfalls of native representation on the whole. The people of the Sun Empire in Magic are dressed in a way that is respectful and evocative of the specific cultures they were trying to emulate, if clearly works of fantasy. Instead of the dreaded noble savage we have skilled warriors that can hold their own. Instead of fetishized native princesses or mystic shamans we have Huatli, known by the titles dinosaur knight and warrior poet and depicted with the dignity that both of those ideas conjure. 

It’s a welcome breath of fresh air. You can bet your butt that I want a full playset of her and to build the most dino-heavy themed deck possible. I can’t tell you the pure elation of seeing someone like you in something you love when you’re not used to it. Let alone seeing someone like you be capable and strong.

This is especially important given a history of being portrayed as villains. I’m of the belief that when you are writing a group or culture that has been historically maligned it’s a chance to be empowering. Look to works of Afro-futurism such as the works of Octavia Butler for more concrete examples of why this is so important. And contrary to popular belief, these are still living cultures being represented. Nahuatl is still spoke by 1.7 million according to a 2015 survey. On August 9th of this year, Belize launched the Maya lands registry to identify and protect Mayan lands.

Now that’s not to say everything is perfect, far from it. The spirit of colonialism is alive and well in the other themes and story elements of Ixalan. Ixalan art director Cynthia Sheppard described the elevator pitch for the plane as “Vampire conquistadors” in the 2017 Pax West world-building panel, and it shows. She talked about how dinosaurs and cities of gold came about because they wanted to build off the idea of a Lost World. But the issue with lost world narratives is that they’re built off a tradition of ignoring the sovereignty of indigenous peoples.

In lost world narratives, indigenous people’s claims just don’t count no matter how long they might have called said lost world home. To these Lost World stories, natives are at best another curiosity of this strange land to ogle and at worst a racist caricature for the white square-jawed hero to kill or outwit. It’s a pattern you can find everywhere from King Kong, to Raiders of the Lost Ark, to Road To El Dorado.

Now Ixalan’s natives have done a great job at avoiding these outwardly racist aspects, but the threads of these ideas are still present in its mechanics and flavor with all its talks of exploring, discovery, and claiming. I’m left feeling slightly uncomfortable more than anything else. I feel like these are the sort of thing hiring a native consultant worth their salt would have caught.

Lost Cities of Gold themselves have a particularly troublesome history. The exaggerated stories of golden cities were used as justification for the violent conquest, genocide, slavery, and the various crimes of humanity that surround it. And the echoes of these atrocities, and others like it, are still felt today.

I know that the closer I am to a reservation the more likely I am to be harassed by cops. In America, the sports team that calls the nation’s capital home is a slur. We have a man who genocided a whole third of my nation on the twenty. Assaults and grabs for native lands continue for our resources, backed with private military and dogs or lobbyists and monetary clout at sites like Standing Rock and Menominee River.

And while I appreciate the framing of these conquistadors as the villains they should be, I feel like there is a conversation to be had about this. Sometimes making actual monsters out of the perpetrators of a very human horror distances ourselves from the truth of the situation. It’s a lot easier to think of these people as unrepentant monsters than actual humans who were capable of terrible things. It’s easy to think that you would never be complicit in these sort of acts, but turn around and call the Water Protectors you see on TV thugs and criminals. I know that I’ve seen many conversations from Jewish friends and critics surrounding depictions of Nazis. We’re always a lot closer to repeating these terrible things than we would like to admit.

I should make it very clear I’m by no means calling for the head of anyone at Wizards. I’m largely still very pleased with what I’ve seen of Ixalan and I truly hope nothing happens to change that. I’m excited to see Huatli in action, hopefully as deserving of the narrative spotlight as she feels in my heart.

I just hope next time Magic attempts something like this (and I do want there to be a next time) they hire an appropriate consultant to provide them with context that they may not normally have. As well as ask the questions that need to be asked.

What to expect from Judges on diversity in Magic

Have you ever heard someone say “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic?” when asked to stop saying something like “that’s so gay”?

Logistically speaking it can’t really work that way – if we were allowed to act however we wanted without a care for how it affects other players then the chances people will do something to ruin each others’ experiences skyrocket. In other words there’s a silent implied second part to that sentence: “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic without giving any thought to whether our actions are (inadvertently) detracting from others’ ability to do the same?”

Unfortunately, the majority of players hear sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks in places that they play Magic, and a considerable proportion of players report that such comments reduce the chance that they will return to play Magic in that place again.

Luckily, there’s no need to get into a philosophical debate when it comes up in your Local Game Store because it’s literally in the rules that anywhere sanctioned Magic is played must be welcoming and inclusive regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, ability, or anything else that has nothing to do with the game.

While all players have a role to play in changing the reality of this situation, lets drill down on what players can expect from Magic Judges.

Judges have a responsibility to ensure that places Magic is played are welcoming and inclusive

Magic Judges are all bound by the Judge Code of Conduct which has the following to say about creating welcoming environments (taken directly from the code but the order has been changed here):

  1. Judges have the same responsibilities as all members of the Magic community to avoid actions which could reasonably be expected to cause someone else to feel harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. Judges should not express views that would make other members of the Magic community feel unsafe or unwilling to attend an event where that judge was on staff.
  2. Judges should not allow others to create a bad environment by inaction.
  3. They have additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where these behaviors are not accepted and all members of the Magic community can feel welcome.

First and foremost, hopefully players will never experience behaviour from judges directly that discourages them from feeling welcome but if you do and are not comfortable pointing out the code of conduct to the judge in question, you can always use the Judge feedback form (which includes an anonymous option).

The second bullet directs judges not to contribute to an unwelcoming environment through inaction. So if you have a problem relating to discrimination, judges can be expected to assist with solving that problem. As discussed in the judge seminar video below, it’s not always clear when and how to intervene but generally these principles were agreed to be helpful for judges:

  • Try to intervene as soon as possible, even at casual events, to send a message to other players about what is not acceptable language. Saying something is infinitely better than saying nothing here.
  • Try to assume that players are not intending to be malicious with words that cause other people discomfort. Starting with a simple “that’s not cool” or “we don’t use those words here” is sufficient surprisingly often. Saying something that allows the player to learn is infinitely better than putting them on the defensive.
  • Every situation is unique so use judgment for when to deviate from the default of speaking up and/or whether later in depth follow up with the player is needed.


Finally, the code directs judges to actively work to improve the welcoming atmosphere of and contribute to a culture of inclusivity everywhere Magic is played through an “additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where … all members of the Magic community can feel welcome”. Some ways that judges can do this include:

  • Don’t always use male pronouns for hypothetical players & judges
  • Call out “small things” even when not judging
  • Approach game stores where they judge about regular events where inclusiveness is highlighted 
  • Add this small phrase to opening announcements on Planeswalkers for Diversity / Lady Planeswalker Society nights: “Treat your opponent well regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else. Of course this is always expected where Magic is played but we are paying particular attention to it tonight.”
  • Add this small phrase to all opening announcements: “Treat your opponent with respect regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else – remember your opponent is a human not a gremlin.” (or zombie or eldrazi or whatever other monster is on theme).
  • Get involved with the Judges for Diversity judge project.

 

There are actual rules for handling discriminatory behaviour at all levels of play 

The focus at Regular Rules Enforcement Level (like Friday Night Magic, a Pre-Release, or most other sanctioned events at your Local Game Store) is educational. Since there are no official warnings at Regular, judges should start by assuming players are unaware of why their comments are not allowed and inform players of what is expected. If a player becomes argumentative, the judge can explain that whether this policy makes sense to them or not is immaterial. Rather, this is was is expected in Wizards Play Network stores / at sanctioned Magic events. They will need to comply and can discuss their opinion of the policy at another time. Persistent and unrepentant behavior constitutes what is referred to as a “Serious Problem” in Judging at Regular. There are no game/match losses at regular so a player who continues risks being disqualified and asked to leave the premises.

At Competitive events like Grand Prix, judges have additional tools to use in the form of warnings and match loss penalties.

Unsporting Conduct (USC) – Major is a match loss  and is defined as occurring when:  A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.

There is some discretion here but it’s important to avoid “gamers like to be irreverent and no one was bothered” types of excuses. The Major and Minor USC infractions do NOT depend on if anyone felt uncomfortable or on whether harm was intended. An infraction is committed if language was used that reasonably could be expected to make someone feel uncomfortable.

USC – Minor is a warning (though multiple warnings could result in an upgrade to game loss) and covers things that are generally disruptive but would not necessarily be bothersome to the average person on the street.

For more detail on what kinds of scenarios would be infractions see: How to make Unsporting Conduct Minor and Major rulings with Diversity in mind (Judge Seminar Presentation by Violet Edgar)

Many judges are new to handling such scenarios and might need some feedback

Although these rules described above clearly support the importance of judges creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, there is a lot of subjectivity in interpretation. Unlike common rules interactions where you can expect most judges to give similar rulings, many judges could miss the mark simply from lack of experience with these situations. That’s why the Inclusive Environments Victoria BC 2016 Judge Conference Presentation (PDF) includes four real life scenarios and group discussions about how to handle them. The video includes the report back from small groups where you can hear that around half of the judges present might not have understood how to handle the situations at first. If you’re facing some kind of discrimination and the judges involved don’t seem to be taking it as seriously as this article suggests they should, feel free to get in touch using our contact form here as we can help with this – it’s not your job to educate your judge but it is someone’s!

More Resources

Organizations working on improving inclusiveness in Magic

Other resources

Video Presentation


Some feedback from participants

  • “I find it important as we’ve recently had a few members of the LGBTQ community show interest in magic and I want to ensure everyone is welcome and having a good time.”
  • “Engaging everyone with the scenarios and almost putting us in the situations helped show how people can disregard how others might feel.”
  • “The real world examples were shocking.”

Protection from Silencing

On November 8th, 2016, I settled in to enjoy Hillary Clinton’s expected victory. While I knew Hillary wasn’t widely beloved, I thought Trump’s attitudes towards vulnerable groups would be a deal-breaker for enough people. I exchanged messages with anxious friends assuring them that polls looked good. I retweeted photos of women joyfully voting in their pantsuits. I was sick to my stomach, unable to forget the many protections Trump promised to strip from the people I care about, but I was cautiously optimistic.

crippling-chill

 

By the time my husband got home from work I was lying in the dark with my head covered. I knew it was over. He tried to keep my spirits up a while longer, pointing out when she won Virginia or her electoral numbers rose, but I am seasoned at spotting and digging in against a wave of despair.

 

I have autism, PTSD, and limited physical mobility, so it is difficult for me to consistently take part in most communities. The internet is basically my home. When the results of the election were officially called, I went where I go to heal: MTG Social Justice Twitter.

 

Starting Out

 

To understand how I ended up there, it’s important to know how I began: scared and lonely. The details from my childhood aren’t important, but the lessons are. I learned to always be on guard, no matter the situation. I learned to get adult attention without letting them figure out that I had Serious Problems. I obeyed. I overachieved. I cried a lot, mostly in private. And most of all, I survived. Seizing joy and feelings of safety in the moments I could find them, sometimes falling apart, but mostly just shutting down inside so I could go about my day.

 

stony-silence

I can’t remember when or how I first discovered MTG Twitter. I’d experimented with the platform before but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do remember that the second time I looked into it, I was lucky to encounter the helpful and welcoming Liz Cady (@jhoiraartificer). I was mostly quiet, because people were scary and there were a lot of them and I could not catalog and avoid all the ways these hundreds of people might want to hurt me if I stepped out of line. Mostly I listened.

 

And I had certainly picked a good group to listen to. I’m sure I vaguely identified as a feminist before—I have a remarkable extended family of ass-kicking aunts—but a whole new world of information was opening up in front of me. My timeline constantly featured modern feminist fundamentals that I’d never heard before, values that certainly weren’t encouraged in my home. Your body is yours alone. You can say no to being touched and you do not have to defend your reason. What? You are not obligated to give your attention to every person who demands it. What? Pointing out that someone is being abusive does not make you abusive yourself. What?! Several times a day, I scrolled through my timeline—preview card, friend’s new haircut, life-altering truth, cute meme.

 

Seeing Possibilities

 

Right around the time I joined the community, Wizards of the Coast started realizing they were behind the times. Although they had some basic policies that were progressive when they were implemented, such as no damsels in distress, the women still tended to be oversexualized and made up a small minority of existing planeswalkers. Although the style guide instructed artists to illustrate a variety of races, ages, and body types, this was treated very loosely. The striking progress can be seen between Innistrad and Shadows Over Innistrad, when all the human women finally got to bundle up for the cold weather, and we found people of color besides Grizzled Outcasts and Tiago Chan.

 

With the release of Avacyn Restored in 2012, Wizards found itself in the middle of the growing debate of whether feminist players were being “too sensitive” about representation. The art on Triumph of Ferocity showed a key moment in the story, where Garruk is demanding that Liliana remove the curse she placed on him, and his pose ended up unintentionally looking somewhat reminiscent of sexual assault. Jesse Mason pointed this out in an article on Gathering Magic, where he carefully qualified his statement by saying that he believed it was entirely accidental, did not think the artist was sexist, and was optimistic that Wizards would be more careful in the future. This elicited a reaction from many that I would more or less characterize as “Nuh-uh, shut up.”

 

The art did not affect me personally. I basically went, “Ooh, I can see what he’s talking about, that’s unfortunate. I hoped they learned something.” What I did find disturbing was all the people on social media who were angry that someone even voiced a concern. How eager they were to convince us that we weren’t seeing what we were seeing. It’s an experience survivors tend to know well—“Why do you have to make waves?” “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” “You’re so sensitive.” But what I learned that day, what my MTG Twitter friends showed me, is that I could keep telling them what I thought over and over. I might not convince them but I didn’t have to obey them. My friends and I could keep reminding each other that we see what we see and we know what we know and it’s all worth saying.

 

Breaking Through

 

And, miraculously, the last word came from Wizards itself. Elaine Chase made a statement acknowledging our concerns and accepting the experience as a learning opportunity.

(Image borrowed from here, ironically a blog post expressing annoyance at our protests)

 

Much of my life experience had convinced me that my opinion didn’t matter. Not only that people would ignore me, but that they were correct to ignore me. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because I was too sensitive. Because other people didn’t have a problem with what was happening, so why should I make trouble? It is difficult to convey the impact of someone with authority stepping up, telling the people trying to silence us that they actually want to hear what we have to say.

 

Time passed. I continued to struggle with PTSD symptoms but steadily improved. I don’t want to downplay the impact of other influences, like my wonderful husband and an incredible employment experience, but Magic has come through for me in a million unexpected ways. I got to work closely with gentle and supportive men in the judge program. I got stranded in an unfamiliar airport in the middle of the night, dead of winter, and the local Magic Facebook group organized to pick me up and take me somewhere safe.  I started getting the idea that finding security was not just an immature fantasy.

 

Meanwhile, Wizards also steadily improved. The social justice community grew. My Twitter feed became a hub not only for women’s issues, but all kinds of social justice concerns—race, class, gender identity, disability. It taught me about Black Lives Matter. It taught me about boundaries, about oppression, about what is and isn’t my responsibility. It taught me to listen to the voices of the people I’d been overlooking, and it lifted up my voice when I needed to be heard. And this wasn’t some carefully moderated safe space tucked away in a corner—this was the vision presented by Wizards’ in-game representation and social media. Caring about the concerns of marginalized people was no longer “niche.”

 

Moving Forward

And so, when faced with the reality of a President Trump, the first place I turned was MTG Social Justice Twitter. Some people were in shock and terror at the dangers they saw headed their way. Some people were offering comfort. Some people were offering practical help. No one was telling anyone to “stop overreacting” or “be reasonable.” This place, at least, was free of ugly surprises. A few days later, as the mainstream media starts to normalize the frightening developments and people begin to tell me I’m being divisive, I still see friends calling it like they see it.

Seven years ago I would have been totally lost. I would have seen myself once again surviving only by letting myself go hollow and silent. I would not have known that I could do otherwise, or how. But thanks to my friends, I have words to explain why this isn’t right, and information to back up the intensity of my reaction. I have a sense of right and wrong that can’t be corroded by false equivalence or moral relativism. I can speak my mind to people outside my “bubble” and shake off their efforts to shut me down.

 

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up Magic ten years ago as a lonely college kid. I wanted friends and a distraction from my misery. I certainly would not have predicted “This is going to treat your PTSD. This is going to make you part of something much bigger than yourself. This is going to empower you when you are personally terrified of your president.” But looking back, looking at the people who mixed valuable life education in with their Magic tweets, looking at everyone who pushed Wizards to open their eyes and everyone at Wizards who listened, looking at the leadership provided by Lady Planeswalker Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity, it’s not surprising at all. This is what we’ve all worked for.

 

A few of my favorite Twitter accounts combining social justice and MTG:

You can find me at @Natasha_LH and nlh.magic@gmail.com

 

Change, Art, and a Really Beautiful Playmat

Meet Felipe and Kevin, movers and shakers on the Brazilian MTG LGBT scene.

By Leigh Fryling

It’s impossible to argue that some of the greatest draw to Magic the Gathering lies in its stunning, beautiful, and sometimes hilarious artwork (Goblins, am I right?). I can clearly remember the first cards I ever saw, a green red mess of a deck a forgotten cousin of mine brought to a snoozer of a holiday party. I didn’t even bother reading the instructions, I was mesmerized by vibrant flames and lush velds and one heck of a fiery dragon. I was hooked. The pictures told tiny snippets of story that was more fascinating than anything I’d seen before. And that was 17 years ago.

Now I’m enthralled not just by the card art, but the incredible fan art that has come out of storylines, cards, characters, and in this case, a push towards inclusivity with this stunning playmat and logo for MTG LGBT Brazil. Artist Kevin Silvestri and director Felipe Bracco have generously allowed Planeswalkers for Diversity to sell their playmat at our table at this year’s PAX, and we snapped up the chance to interview the two of them about art, MTG in Brazil, and diversity.

p4d_mtg-lgbt_playmat

 

Felipe, tell us about MTG LGBT Brazil!

Felipe: Our official name is Magic: The Gathering LGBT, and our goal is to gather the MTG LGBT community in a “safe place” where we can be what we want without judgments. Then spread our views and wills to the MTG environment like Stores, Tournaments, etc.. so we can show ourselves and educate people. We got started when the MTG Facebook official page changed their profile picture (with the vivid grove in June 2015) to support the USA gay marriage, and we started a discussion praising WOTC for taking that position. Then a few of us had an idea to start a Brazilian community focused on LGBT people.

So how did Kevin and his art get involved?

Felipe: In our first months, we wanted to create our logo and identity, so we posted looking for someone to help us, and Kevin was the first to show up with will and an amazing talent. Worked so well, that we work together since then. We have a super respect for his artwork and we want him to go further with whatever help we can give him.

Kevin: Our group is very young; it was created around 2015 but has grown so fast. It’s so crazy and amazing to see so many LGBT people that play Magic The Gathering, while also having a safe place to talk, joke, and meet new people, you know?

During my participation of Magic-LGBT, members were asked to come up with a “logo” for the group. I had this idea of a five petal lotus icon (one for each mana color) because the lotus symbol is a very special thing in the MTG universe and to me; a flower sends a message of something new blooming… They ended up loving the idea and I became the “official” designer of the group!

Kevin what inspires you to make your art?

Kevin: So many things; usually it’s things I see, a song I hear, that suddenly strikes an image in my mind.  Sometimes these images grow to become a character, a universe, or a whole history, so I’m constantly meeting new people in my head and thinking about the universe they live in. I might think up a story that would be cool to see them go through, to grow or achieve something.

That speaks to me, I feel like the stories or the potential stories we find in art are personal and compelling. What’s different for you between making your own art and MTG inspired art?

Kevin:  MTG art for me is totally bat shit crazy, it’s definitely on another level. The style was the first thing that hooked me into in the game: I remember being nine or so, I found a lost card on the ground of my school and was mesmerized by the artwork. The card happened to be Hollow Hounds of the seventh edition (it creeped the hell out of me!). I still have it, by the way. So I started to research more about the game after that. I started to collect the cards for the art alone, but little by little I learned to enjoy and love the game. MTG art is not totally my style (well, maybe in the first editions when the art was more crazy), but usually I draw more B&W, concept oriented, sketchy, children’s book cartoony style. The main difference I think is that Magic art is so realistic, with a very thought-out character and universe design process. You really have to follow these guidelines to create something that feels like it belongs in “Magic the Gathering”. If you just look up the art you know that the “weird plant thing” is from the Kamigawa set, or that metallic monolith-like sphinx is from Alara. It’s a very well-constructed universe and I really love it, it’s something that makes the game so special to me.

The playmat and logo are both amazing, but even more amazing is how quickly Magic the Gathering: LGBT has grown and expanded! What are the challenges you’ve been facing, and what are your hopes for the future?

Felipe: For me, it is keeping things up and always search for new opportunities, ideas, and partnerships on the MTG environment.

For our group, it is keeping the inner management and join the brazilian no-capital community; some foreigners don’t realize, but Brazil is such a BIG country.

By the way, the Brazilian MTG community has been very welcoming (like stores, organizers, some players, etc…)

For the future of our group, we want to keep the Brazilian community stronger and stronger and exchange more and more experience with other groups. But a near goal is to make a 2017 playmat, which Kevin has great plans for.

Kevin: I think what any artist would want: to wow people, make them feel something, tell a story that brings them happiness, sadness, nostalgia… to raise a question or put some issue in the spotlight.  I think that the greatest joy of an artist is being able to create and finish something and see the people react to it, have their work respected and cherished.

More acceptance, more inclusiveness, more discussion. We still have a long way to go, but I’m really liking the new but small details that Magic is inserting into the world, like the flavor on Guardian of Meletis card or the trans character Alesha. I was very happy with the new planeswalkers Kaya and Saheeli Rai, they look so badass and cool.

To reiterate: we still have a lot of work to do. but I wish that WOtC would take these small details and turn them into bigger things. I would love a LGBT planeswalker, more non binary characters. It’s so good and important to see something that represents you in a product that you love. You feel like you can be as powerful and cool as that character you know? And that’s a big thing, especially when you’re young.

And just a quick teaser haha: I’m already starting to work on the 2017 edition playmat that I want to be much bigger and powerful!

Kevin I’d really like to ask you more about your art, but I think that’s a whole article by itself. And Felipe, we need to know more about Magic and the LGBT community in Brazil! For now, is there any last thing you’d like to say before we see everyone at PAX?

Kevin: When it comes to the design in the playmat, I made it to be like a medal, like an engraved memorial on stone, to remind you to always be proud of who you are.

Felipe: Just thank you!

And thank you guys! Check out the MTG LGBT Twitter and Kevin’s Artwork. Remember to pick up your  playmat at our PAX booth, and keep supporting each other!

Critical thoughts on representation in Conspiracy 2

Representation of diversity in games is hard. It’s also important. Wizards has publicly made very clear that they care about diversity, so we should hold them to account and make sure they deliver on this. We also need to strive to be thorough, rigorous, and fair in that critique for it to be most effective. We at MTGDiversity.org absolutely adore our friends over at HipstersOfTheCoast. We applaud them for regularly tackling diversity issues. The fact that the original article this post is about is something they are interested in is fabulous. It raises some important points and has sparked an important discussion. We also thought there was some excellent food for thought in some of said discussion, as reflected in a small part of this twitter exchange excerpted below (click on the tweets below to follow the full discussion). We also highly recommend Quinn Murphy’s thoughts about the importance of critique.

-Your friendly neighbourhood @mtgdiversity editors [Note: this post was originally published August 22 and our statement above was updated on with a link to Quinn Murphy‘s thoughts on August 23rd]

This conversation between Mike and I is a discussion between two people who are at the base of things folk who love Magic and the Magic community both personally and professionally. We are also both people who have been responsible for editorial and art content and I am an ethnographer specifically working on relationships between corporations and community, and our discussion takes place with that background. Both Hipsters of the Coast and Wizards of the Coast are working hard to tackle complicated subjects and we respect both of them while also feeling that balanced critique is a necessary part of engaging with their efforts. Tackling industry wide issues and analyzing steps for improvement is no quick fix and analyzing them should merit the rigor of research.

Mike and I may spend more time looking at more places than many community members because of our own positionality, and our discussion comes from those positionalities – I’m happy to share it if asked because my own work is transparent to the community. But understand at heart this is a conversation between one friend asking another friend for her “hot take”  and take that for exactly what it is.

We genuinely love all of you, and Magic.

-Adrienne (@DreamtimeDrinne)

Tackling industry wide issues and analyzing steps for improvement is no quick fix and analyzing them should merit the rigor of research. The casual nature of the discussion should not undermine the seriousness of the discussion, nor should it discount the crux of the article’s main argument. As fellow community members with advanced academic research under our respective belts, when we see articles that elevate the discussion from playing into industry analysis, we expect serious research and when questions arise, we will bring them up.

Adrienne and I have very different lenses and use them to aid in questioning editorial content just as any academic would write a book or article review. I write on art because it comes naturally to me from interest, academic background and previous work experience. Finding examples where the ingredients differ but the cake gets made still warrants why so much saffron is being used. Representation is something all TCGs in the gaming industry struggle with and that issue will not be resolved on Twitter. We may be instigators of keeping the ball rolling and we do so out of love for our community, this MtG game and how it helps future generations.

-Mike (@VorthosMike)


Fighting Back Against Persecution in Magic

By Mark Nestico, re-blogged from Mark’s facebook

I’m a funny guy.

I like to write satirical articles about decks or other trivial bits of nonsense that are meant to make you laugh. Sometimes people don’t understand that, at their core, those pieces are meant to hold a mirror up to the community. Whether it’s about the outcry for bannings in Modern, the distaste we may have for a format, or whatever else…I have always tried to give you something that would make people smile. I don’t always do the best job, but the heat from it never really bothered me. All I ever really want to do is entertain you.

Bear that in mind. It’s not about being entertaining- at least not today.

Over the weekend StarCityGames posted about the recent legislature, HB2, as it pertained to the upcoming Grand Prix in North Carolina. I won’t speak to it, because Pete explained everything about as perfectly as he could. The issue I have doesn’t stem from Mr. Hoefling’s words, but rather some of the comments posted in regards to them, and more so over various forms of social media.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

I had this set up all differently. I’ve already deviated from my outline. I guess it’s just time to write from the heart.

So anyhow.

None of us are normal.

Make sure you understand that before you proceed, because I assure you that’s a point we are going to drive home today.

Ok.

So.

None of us are normal.

Imagine for a moment you don’t belong. That shouldn’t be a terribly farfetched concept, right? You’re not the captain of the football team nor are you the head cheerleader. You’re just you, and for some people you isn’t good enough. This is high school, middle school, elementary school, work, or wherever else all rolled into one. Eventually you start to think that you’re not good enough.

Depression sets in. Pain sets in. Suffering sets in.

You are suffering.

You’re not the person now that you were then, but you’re certainly a byproduct of it. All the downers, bullying, trolling, vicious comments, physical assaults, psychological assaults- they shape you. Not everyone can just “brush it off” or “stand up for themselves.” Amputate the leg and you’re no longer a track star. Amputate the self-esteem and you’re no longer capable of fighting back.

Time passes.

You find Magic. Maybe you stumbled upon a store or saw it on the internet. It’s a children’s card game, but it has millions upon millions of people that play it, and there is a convergence of other people who just don’t belong meeting there a few times a week to battle, discuss, and share in a hobby.

“What the hell.”

Forsaking your baser intuitions that tell you to avoid these kinds of interactions completely predicated on all of the unfavorable ones you’re used to, you go. You learn. You observe.

Time passes.

Magic isn’t just a hobby to you anymore- it’s the very air you breathe. Your friendships exist because of Magic. Your self-confidence has grown because of Magic. Your time is now spent between when you get to go to your local game shop and be happy and the life you loathe. Your life means more because of Magic. It has saved you.

Time passes.

You’ve spent so, so, so very much time being different. Not good enough in your own eyes, but Magic and good friends have finally given you the courage to be who you thought you always should be. When you go to these Opens or PPTQs or random events you’re surrounded by literally thousands of people who were all a little different, or made fun of, or outsiders/geeks/nerds/whatever the hell people need to call other people to make themselves feel superior. They all convene in one place for plenty of different reasons: commander, cosplay, to meet artists, trading, play competitively or casually, hang out with friends, draft, and a multitude of other possibilities.

With that in mind you decide you’re going to go to your first Grand Prix. Maybe it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Developments in that state make you feel significantly less safe. Your pragmatism sets in, and you do your best to understand the “whys” and how they directly impact you. It’s not just HB2. It’s the reaction. Polarizing. You’re called names again. Your very state of being is called into question. You begin to feel those old notions of inadequacy- the kids in school who relentlessly tease you, or the adults who stare and point. It’s not just the bill.

It’s not just the bill.

It’s the people and their treatment of their fellow man or woman.

Anxiety sets in.

Here we are again, suffering- wasn’t I silly for thinking I could escape from you.

The Island of Misfit Toys

We are all beautiful, and beautifully broken. From the lowliest internet troll who seeks to inflict pain in order to feel something…anything to the most holier-than-thou crusader who finds offenses in everything regardless of if it exists or not. We all are something special, and usually that conflicts with the opposite end of the spectrum.

Magic is the Island of Misfit Toys. Its where a lot of people who have never felt a sense of belonging go because they don’t know any other options. For some it’s the first, and for some it’s the last stop on a journey to find their place in this world.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

There is something wrong, however, with acting like your place is somehow more sacred than another’s.

Bullying is a hot-button topic. It has been for a few years.

There are two camps:

1- Those who think the bullied should stop being soft and fight back.

2- Those who are bullied.

The interesting dichotomy that exists is that those who think it’s as simple as raising a generation of warriors often fail to realize how damaging it is to constantly be put down. Have you ever seen a boxer get knocked out? Does their corner rush to their side and scream “get up! You’re letting us down by being unconscious! What kind of loser are you?” Or do they rush to their side and try to take care of them? I’ll give you one guess, and it’s not the first one. We learn from getting knocked out, but some people become punch-shy, and they learn to dodge better rather than absorb a hit.

When I was a kid I was bullied, but I had a smart mouth and I wasn’t afraid to take a beating or dish one out. That’s just who I was, but when I went home do you know what I did? Watched television. Played with my action figures. Ate dinner. Talked to mom and dad. Went to bed. That was it.

People nowadays have no escape. Are you tortured at home? Lovely. Let’s continue that when you get home over social media- tweet at you how much we hate you, and tag you on Facebook statues about what a terrible person you are. Are you scared? You should be. Here come the text messages because we somehow got your number. Emails. Don’t even try to cover your ears. We’re everywhere.

This is the life that the bullied live nowadays. It’s not as easy as when I was young. We threw some punches and called it quits. There is literally no escape from being condemned for your race, sexuality, gender identity, looks, weight…your everything is on trial.

The Magic community, which is supposed to be a Safe Haven for those who enjoy the game, instead has fostered a subset of members who believe their hatred trumps compassion and reason. Look no further than the various comment sections of articles. We make a play or write about something you don’t agree with? We’re idiots. Don’t like our articles? We’re illiterate. Constructive criticisms are a thing of the past, because why be kind and understanding when you can just tell the other living, breathing, alive person with feelings that they should kill themselves. That’s the ticket, right? Forget the middle. Straight to the endgame.

It’s not about safe spaces or secret clubhouses. Magic is a game and it is meant to be enjoyed by every person who chooses to play it, and the injection of prejudices and ad hominem should be a notion so far removed from it that it makes almost no sense to me that a group of people just searching for happiness would cannibalize itself with hatred. Malice doesn’t come with impunity.

The Remedy

So far I’ve heard “stop shoving your changes down my throat,” “things were fine the way they were before,” and “political correctness is destroying America.” I’m here to hold your hand through this. It’s not the end of the world. Listen to my words: change is a good thing, accepting your fellow man and woman is ok, and not spewing hateful rhetoric will do your soul more good than it will harm.

We are blessed. So blessed. Beyond blessed that we have Magic. It’s not the game- because a game is just that. For some it’s a living, or a passion- a hobby or an escape route. You don’t know the extent that someone has ran away from persecution just to be able to sit across from you at the table, shake your hand, roll some dice, and battle some cards. Their struggles- internal or external- are a catalyst for their strength and determination, but are also scars they bare from battles you know nothing about. Just being in your presence shouldn’t be another war, nor should telling them how much they disgust you.

They are a human.

You are a human.

Despite philosophical, perceived, real or fake differences, hurting someone is never ok. Your rights do not begin based off of ending someone else’s.

Empathy.

Understanding.

Respect.

Emotion.

You can never underestimate these qualities. They are literally the perfect starting hand for interacting with those around us.

Magic should be all-inclusive, and even though the vast majority of it is, that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

We should want to be better.

After all, what would you rather do?

Destroy a life

Or save it? Your words can do either.

Embrace the power your can have over the Magic community. Spread love, not hate. Spread positivity, not malicious thoughts.

Free yourself from the thorned bonds that would prevent you from helping those around you. Exile bullying or doing harm to your fellow players.

This is my declaration today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the time I play Magic.

Next week I’m sure I’ll write about some deck or do some satirical piece. I’m a funny guy, right?

Arlinn Kord, Savior of Planeswalkers

Okay, maybe not that dramatic. However, the Magic Community and the Vorthos community today on just about all social media sang her praises, which is very strange to see. We got our first tidbits of the Shadows Over Innistrad storyline today as we learned of Arlinn Kord and then also Halana and Alena in Under the Silver Moon.  For a set I was kind of meh on to begin with, I’m certainly very excited from a flavor perspective now!

Anyway, like I said, social media was incredibly positive over both of these events, with the focus certainly being on Arlinn.  This pretty much summed up much of the reaction:

But it wasn’t just that we had a Werewolf Planeswalker. It is also part that Arlinn is a woman, with a practical outfit and then additionally doesn’t seem like our typically 15-25 year old looking Planeswalkers, meaning she opens up the demographic within Magic that has aged along side of it for 20 years.

This is key. We’ve had a wide array of characters presented to us across a lot of spectrums, with of course more to be covered, but all of our ‘aging’ or ‘middle aged’ main characters have been male.  Very few of our female characters are portrayed as ‘mature’, ‘old’, ‘or ‘experienced’.  This is a great thing!  This goes outside of the fantasy art and story lines of either telling the story of the maiden(Elspeth, Chandra, Kiora could all fit this) or crone (Mother of Runes, Fate Stitcher), but neglecting the middle.  So this is a great step forward in Magic being more inclusive to a little bit of everyone.

Other people were using Arlinn to replace long lost loved ones in the Vorthos community.  I mean, if we are going to ‘lose’ Elspeth, at least in the comic book sense, we may as well get something equally awesome out of it!

A couple of us went a bit to far into Tin Hat Story Mode, although I’ll laugh is this is the case:

Then there was the fight over what to call her. Wolf Mom seems okay, until you then realize that we automatically assign mom to women at that age, which I’m kinda iffy about.  It belittles people who took other paths and her own story.  It isn’t as if we called Sarkhan Dragon Dad or something silly like that.  Kiora is too ‘young’ to be called Kraken Mom.  So I like this guys solution:

He works for WOTC, so I think I can take it as Gospel.

On the other hand, we had Jack LaCroix who got to the real important things:

I guess everyone has their priorities, even if they don’t align with everyone’s.

And then we had the inevitable sads…

And of course we had this comment ‘all that matters is what is under the picture, I don’t care’

Screenshot 2016-03-02 at 6.34.25 PM

Dude, it is totes okay you don’t like pretty art and full rounded stories, but don’t take away from those of us who do, mmm’kay?  You can have your chatter time when the card is revealed, let us revel in our time! FOR OUR TIME IS NOW!  It isn’t like you are like Jack appreciating some other facet I don’t see, because we don’t know the card yet!

Some of us were doing useful discussion of a card, trying to figure out what she might be.  I’m on team Red-Green personally, but White-Green is also viable, as is perhaps just Red or just Green.  I don’t think we’ve gotten a new Red walker that isn’t Sarkhan or Chandra, so we could be due.  Now watch we get a curve ball thrown at us where she is one color or set of colors on one side, and the complete opposite on the other.  Although, that doesn’t feed in very well with keeping her mind post transformation.

Anyway, at a minimum, Arlinn has gotten everybody thinking about Innistrad in spectacular fashion and overall she is a hit with the community.

#NotAllManLands

The Magic community on Twitter recently revisited a discussion on what to call lands that can turn into creatures (e.g. Shambling Vent, Mutavault, Mishra’s Factory). Traditionally these had been called “man lands,” a semi-rhyming slang that has become fairly entrenched in the community.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa asked his female twitter followers whether the name bothered them, particularly when translating ‘manland’ to Portuguese make a feminine phrase.  Most said it did not, but many recognized there was something to it and some questioned posing the question this way.  It is important to realize that people can recognize things maybe aren’t optimal, and there is a need to improve, without it greatly affecting them in one direction or another.

The responses in favor of “manlands” broke down into three broad categories: (1) tradition, i.e. “We’ve always called them that.” (2) aesthetics, i.e. “Manland just sounds better.” or (3) semantics, i.e. “Man stands for human and is not gender exclusive.”

In truth, all three of these ultimately seem to collapse into the first.  Aesthetics, aside from being subjective, are more likely to grow out of familiarity more than any inherent virtue of the older name.

The semantic argument is also rooted in tradition. In older English style manuals, the male gender is prescribed default and it has indeed been used as a stand in for “Human” in traditional texts. However, on issues of inclusivity, appealing to tradition is rarely useful. After all, the very issue being addressed is the traditional lack of inclusiveness, so looking to the past is not a useful guidepost. It’s also worth noting that, other than Mutavault, none of the lands become Humans.

The last response that came up fairly often was, “Who cares?” Ultimately, as a poll on MTGDiversity’s own twitter showed, most of the participants (55% of 96 respondents) felt it was a small issue but a worthwhile one. But there’s room for a lot of space between “The Biggest Deal Ever” and “Literally Irrelevant.”

Ultimately, you aren’t being inherently sexist and likely aren’t directly offending someone if you say “manland”. But it’s also not discriminatory or offensive to cross your arms and sit silently when a new person enters your Local Game Store. Still, making this small change is a gesture toward inclusivity, a show of good faith, and a relatively low cost way to remove a small barrier to entry for those that the name does bother.

Instead of “manland” consider saying “creature land.” If you don’t like that, the MtG community has no shortage of quirky nicknames for things, so try lanimals, elementalands, ani-lands, critter land, or your own non-gendered way of referring to our animating land friends.

It can certainly be said that the Magic Community can and will adapt to change, it just has to be a unified effort.  Trying these alternate names on could be as simple as using them at FNM for an evening and getting people to discuss it more in depth.  Being an advocate for such change in your local community can change the community at large and make various people feel more included.

 

Thank you to Renee Hupp from Card Confidants for contributing to this article. 

Women and Magic: A Rebuttal


The post below was written by Anastacia Tomson in response to StarCity Games article on Women in Magic, itself a reply to an article by Meghan Woff.


I don’t even know where to start with this. I have a nagging suspicion that my efforts might be completely fruitless, because I have had countless discussions just like this in my local Magic group, and they have all largely headed in the same direction.

But nonetheless, I am going to take the time to type out a systematic and articulate response to your article. I’d like to preface this by saying that I read your article word-for-word, top-to-bottom. I became emotional, upset and sometimes downright livid, but I’m nonetheless making a point of replying calmly and respectfully, and I hope that I will be afforded the same dignity.

You open with a scenario from South Park. I will not go into the merits of referencing South Park when making any kind of social commentary. But the gist of the argument according to your transcript is this: The children seemed like they were being racist but didn’t know it because they were blind to race, so we forgive them or even congratulate them, and carry on.*

The fact of the matter is that behaviour that is oppressive remains oppressive irrespective of the motives behind that behaviour. I do believe that the correct approach is to try to educate as to why the behaviour is wrong rather than simply becoming indignant and belligerent about it. But please remember that oppression, whatever the motivation, hurts people.

Your argument here, if I follow, is that by addressing these inequalities, we are creating more prejudice, or “widening the gap”. And I will retort by saying that you are widening that gap, perhaps because you have become defensive after reading Meghan’s article.

You state that you and Meghan share a common goal, but you set about explaining systematically why she is wrong in pursuing that goal. The primary problem here is that you address this matter from a position of privilege.

Your first argument is against the necessity to have women in positions that are visible, in terms of coverage, feature matches and so on. What you have failed to realise here is that gender is an issue. For years and years, the coverage booth has been staffed exclusively by men, because that is the expectation that society has. The goal is equality between genders, but we are starting from a point that is already heavily biased in favour of males. In Magic, people should indeed be recognised by their merits, but do not forget that achievement is informed by opportunity, and opportunity while abundant for men, is far less so for women.

We are not asking for special dispensation – what we are asking for is representation. And this is particularly pertinent with regards to your comment about saying that there may “some day” be a woman in a coverage position. There may not be many positions available, but the fact is that although we play the game, we do not enjoy the same luxury of representation that you do. And this is the kind of inequality that should be addressed rather than left to sort itself out on its own at some arbitrary point in the future.

What are the criteria for having a match featured live on camera, exactly? Those matches are selected for a number of reasons, and often the position of the players on the standings is not primary amongst them – very easily proven by virtue of that Table 1 is not always featured in coverage. So why is it sexist to suggest that representation should be a factor in considering which matches are featured?

You preface your response to “Girlfriendification” by saying that you are male and the problems do not directly affect you, so this already lessens all the arguments that follow. You have indeed not experienced these phenomena for yourself, and to argue that they do not exist because you have not personally experienced or witnessed them is naive.

You then argue that as your girlfriend becomes more proficient at the game, she will be regarded as an individual on her own merits rather than as an extension of your own presence. The implication here is that by default, she undergoes girlfriendification until she earns the right not to. When you began playing Magic, was your very presence at an event undermined? Did anyone say “Oh you’re Joe Schmoe’s friend?”. I imagine it is more likely that from the outset you were judged according to your own merits or lack thereof.

Then you give examples of incidents where she did in fact experience sexism. Firstly, you laud her for laughing off these occurrences. If it did not faze her, that is well and good, and more power to her. But it is not a praiseworthy thing for a woman to ignore these kind of comments. The implication here again is that if she is perturbed by it, that is a weakness. In the first instance, she should not even be subjected to that kind of treatment – if she is, it is unfair to blame her for not being able to ignore it.

The argument that “some people are going to be jerks” no matter what is a poor one. Of course it is unacceptable to be rude or discriminatory to anyone, on any basis. But again, acknowledge the reality that women are subjected to this more often than men. Even in the instance of someone who is a “natural born jerk”, that individual is more likely to behave inappropriately towards a woman than towards anyone else, because it is perceived as being more acceptable.

Of course we should actively discourage people from being jerks, and we should work together towards this goal – I do not think anyone would dispute that. But I do take issue with your second point. It’s all well and good to say that we should speak up when we are being oppressed, but this is very typical victim-blaming – what you must try to realise is that even if she is the victim of harassment or disrespect, a woman may not necessarily feel safe in calling it to the attention of an authority figure!

Put yourself in her position for a moment – she has just been insulted on the basis of her gender by an obnoxious player, and seated all around her are a bunch of that player’s friends. How comfortable do you think she would feel in calling the TO or a judge? Don’t blame her for “letting a few jerks ruin… [her] hobby” – blame the jerks for trying to ruin it in the first instance.

You’ve used an example of Gerry Thompson’s hair to compare the body shaming that men undergo with that which women experience. Sure, there are a batch of people ripping on Gerry about his hairstyle. None of them talk about him being f— worthy. None of them are catcalling him. The “nom” pales in comparison to the abusive remarks leveled routinely at women. The salient point here is that we are not arguing that men are never victim to body-shaming – but that it is often far more pervasive, and far more abusive in nature, when it is directed at women. As soon as a female player is on the screen, she is scrutinised according to the standards of acceptability imposed upon her by the male gaze, which again makes every aspect of her existence secondary to her physical appearance as judged by men. Surely it is clear that is problematic?

Meghan’s article was written with the best intentions, but you are belittling and undermining her. You are criticising her for not doing enough to elicit real change, when she has patiently and considerately articulated some very real challenges and concerns that women in Magic face. Creating awareness and starting conversations is part of the process of initiating change – and your entire article illustrates this, as you show how you, and I am sure countless others, have not yet grasped the severity of the problem. Some even deny its existence as a whole. And again, your straw-man argument that women are asking for “special treatment” is what is actually misleading here. The environment as it stands in Magic is heavily skewed towards male benefit – your entire point about “weak” woman in a “strong” man’s world is evidence of this. We want no preferential treatment – what we want is safety and an environment free of oppression. And here’s a little tip – if it’s an environment in which women aren’t harassed, it will also be one in which men aren’t harassed – now that is true equality.

Respect is earned in any community. But that is not a valid argument to the point that in this community, women start off receiving less respect at the baseline than men do. And I hope you will be able to understand that.


The original article, to which this was written as a response, has been pulled from the site on which it was originally published though an online archive is available and screenshots are included below.

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SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 1 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 2 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 3 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 4 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 5 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 6 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 7 SCG Article Jim Davis Women in Magic 8

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* Editor’s note: The noted sentence originally read “The children were being racist, and they didn’t know they were being racist, so we forgive them for being racist and allow them to continue, and no one has been hurt.” which can be easily misunderstood as not accurately reflecting the original article by Davis. The point was that the behaviour by the kids in the story is still racist in impact regardless of the intent being pure due to their blindness to race. The sentence was re-worded to avoid this potential confusion.